Creek near Ruby Mine to be tested |

Creek near Ruby Mine to be tested

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Hikers check out a milky-colored stream coming from the workings of the Ruby Mine. The discharge makes its way to Lincoln Creek.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |


The Ruby Mine near the headwaters of Lincoln Creek is one of 148 sites in Colorado where draining mines “likely impact water quality” and have no active water treatment, according to information released this week by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The health department started compiling a map on Colorado Mining Stream Impact and Restoration Efforts earlier this month after the Gold King Mine disaster near Silverton. An accident during a reclamation effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dumped 3 million gallons of toxic water from the mine into the Animas River.

The map shows general sites where mines could be affecting water quality but it is in too small of a scale to determine if the Ruby Mine was on it. There are several areas of concern in the southeastern corner of Pitkin County, where it abuts Chaffee County on the Continental Divide.

The state health department released a list of the mines that could be affecting stream health on Tuesday. The mine names weren’t released at the same time as the map because information had to be verified, according to a department spokeswoman.

The Hope Mine, 6 miles up Castle Creek Valley, southwest of Aspen, also made the list of mines that “likely impact water quality.” However, water test results during reclamation of the Hope Mine by the U.S. Forest Service and state agencies earlier this decade showed no significant levels of metals in the water discharged by the mine.

No streams or rivers in Pitkin County were flagged as having “impaired water quality” on the mine impact map.

A nonprofit organization plans to start testing Lincoln Creek for macroinvertebrates above and below the point where water from the Ruby Mine enters.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy also announced plans this week to test Lincoln Creek below Grizzly Reservoir for the presence of macroinvertebrates — bugs that are a good indicator of stream health.

“This will give an understanding of the effects of the mine — namely chronic exposure — to macros in the creek and to see if this impacts the water below the reservoir,” Roaring Fork Conservancy Executive Director Rick Lofaro said in an email. Testing could begin next month, he said.

Testing of Lincoln Creek by an official with the Colorado Inactive Mine Reclamation Program with the help of the Roaring Fork Conservancy in the early 2000s showed low levels of metals were reaching the creek from the Ruby Mine workings near the head of Lincoln Creek. A spring on Red Mountain, where the Ruby Mine is located, discharges a higher volume of water into Lincoln Creek than the mine. The spring-fed stream carries naturally occurring minerals on the mountain into Lincoln Creek, according to the state.

The testing found slightly elevated levels of aluminum and iron, but not at levels that required action or monitoring, according to Steven Renner, who conducted the testing for the Colorado Inactive Mine Reclamation Program.

The discharge from the Ruby Mine drew renewed interest this month after water was drained from Grizzly Reservoir. The operator of the reservoir had to repair a gate at the dam, which required releasing the water.

The discharge turned lower Lincoln Creek a cloudy color. The creek runs into the Roaring Fork River about 10 miles east of Aspen. The turbid water also discolored the river to a point below Basalt for a couple of days.

The city of Aspen took samples of sediment at Grizzly Reservoir to test for metals. The concern is that the metals became concentrated in the reservoir over the years and affected water quality downstream, according to April Long, the city’s stormwater manager.

Grizzly Reservoir is located about 5 miles south of Highway 82 on Lincoln Creek Road. Water draining from the Ruby Mine and the spring on Red Mountain drains into Lincoln Creek at a location about 5 miles south of Grizzly Reservoir.

Further studies of aquatic life in the Roaring Fork River will be conducted as a partnership between the Conservancy and city of Aspen, according to Lofaro. Sites in the river in Aspen were tested for macroinvertabrates in 2011-12, he said. Samples will be taken from the same locations at the same time of year and the results will be compared. That should help determine if there was any impact from the discharge from Grizzly Reservoir, Lofaro said.